Research Reactors Worldwide

Neutron beams from research reactors are uniquely suited for studying the structure and dynamics at the microscopic level.

The IAEA lists several categories of broadly classified research reactors. They include 54 critical assemblies (which operate close to zero power), 23 test reactors, 36 training facilities, two prototypes and even one producing electricity.

But most research reactors are largely used for research and radioisotope production. As expensive scientific facilities, they tend to be multi-purpose, and many have been operating for more than 30 years.

Russia has the highest number of research reactors, followed by USA, Japan, France, Germany and China. Many developing countries also have research reactors, including Algeria, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, Jamaica, Libya, Thailand and Vietnam.

About 16 more reactors are planned or are under construction, and 382 have been shut down or decommissioned.

Many research reactors were built in the 1960s and 1970s. The peak number operating was around 1975, with 373 research reactors in 55 countries.


IAEA publishes lists of broadly classified research reactors.


Even though many research reactors are under-utilized and many older ones will be shut down and subsequently undergo decommissioning, the need for research reactors is not waning. Presently, 7 new research reactors are under construction and 9 more are planned. Some of these new reactors are innovative reactors designed to produce high neutron fluxes and will be either multipurpose reactors or dedicated to specific needs.

Australian Replacement Research Reactor (planned to reach full power by August 2005)


Neutron beams are uniquely suited for studying the structure and dynamics of materials at microscopic level. Neutron scattering is used to examine samples under different conditions such as variations in pressure, high temperature, low temperature and magnetic field, essentially under real-world conditions.

Using neutron activation analysis, it is possible to measure minute quantities of an element. Neutrons in a research reactor irradiate the sample. The characteristic gamma radiation emitted by the nuclei in the sample can trace elements in the range of parts per billion (ppb). Neutron irradiation is used to produce radio-isotopes, widely used in industry and medicine, by bombarding particular elements with neutrons.